WHERE OLD GREEN BOOKSHELVES GO TO DIE
Two and 1/2 years ago, I helped my parents finalize their move to Port St. Lucie, Florida after 41 years on Singleton Avenue in Woodmere, New York.Please note the above picture, taken on June 30, 2005 as the movers loaded up the truck in front of my childhood home. On the right of the frame is a green, wood bookshelf that you may recognize from a recent post.
Yes, this is the famous $24.99 bookshelf currently available at the Goodwill retail store in Stuart, Florida. So why am I showing you this picture? It's to make a point. And this is something that I have said before, so you will excuse me for any redundancy.
The best advice I can give you is this: free yourself from the tyranny of possessions.
My mother spent the first half of 2005 going through four decades of stuff that we had accumulated in our house in Woodmere. I know how frustrating and emotionally draining it was for her to disassemble forty years of life.
She had to make hard decisions about what to keep, what to donate and what to sell. Thankfully, the real estate broker who sold our house was a family friend -- a lovely Irish lady named Mrs. O'Reilly. Mrs. O'Reilly was the mother of one of my classmates from Catholic school, and she provided my parents with lots of support and guidance during the move. She did much more than I would ever expect a broker to do.
A week before the move-out date, Mrs. O'Reilly organized a tag sale designed to transform everything that my parents were not bringing with them into cold, hard cash. As you might guess, I had a lot to say about that tag sale. I made sure that my stuff was well organized, appropriately priced and beautifully presented.
I was not present on the day of the sale, but I heard the predictable reports of the garage sale-trolling, bargain-hunting vultures haggling over every single item -- even those with a price tag of less than a dollar.
Sure, that kind of thing is to be expected. And my parents did make money at the tag sale and so did I. But I know that it was very difficult for my mother to sell off pieces of her life -- our family's life -- to penny-pinching strangers angling for a deal.
That's a process that nobody should have to go through, at any age. The whole process of wrapping up that house was incredibly daunting. I was convinced that it would never get done on time, so I helped where I could, going out to Long Island on weekends to organize my stuff and to do the heavy lifting in the attic, basement and garage.
But most of the responsibility fell on my my mother's shoulders -- with the tireless and patient assistance of my Aunt Margaret and Aunt Pat, my mother's two younger sisters. They put up with her need to touch and feel and process every single thing in the house before a decision was made on its fate.
My father's solution was simple -- back up the dumpster.
In retrospect, he probably had the right idea. But I understand my mother's dilemma -- once you've kept something for 40 years, how do you just toss it like yesterday's newspaper? It fells almost sacreligious.
So my mother had to feel her way through everything that she, my father, my sister and I had ever owned -- because we kept just about all of it. My mother found the whole process so emotionally exhausting that she couldn't be there on the last day, the day that the movers finally loaded up the truck.
That day, it was just my father and me.
I was surprised at how unsentimental he was. My parents moved in to that house less than eight years after they got married. It was their home, the place where they raised their kids. The place where my grandmother had lived briefly and where my sister and her new family lived for a few years after her first baby was born.
And yet, on the last day, my father was amazingly pragmatic about the whole process. I, on the other hand, was a mess.
I was running around the house touching and feeling everything, taking pictures of empty rooms and being the overly-sentimental basket case that my mother had created.
I'm not saying that there's anything wrong with being sentimental. It's important to remember and to hold onto things that have emotional history.
But I am here to tell you that YOU CAN GET BURIED UNDER TOO MUCH STUFF. I know that my mother did. And so did I. Even though I threw away some of my childhood mementos, and sold more at the tag sale, I kept the large majority of my stuff and moved it into my tiny studio apartment in New York City.
I ended up with so much stuff in my apartment that there was no room for me any more. So I started sleeping at Maggie's apartment. And now, more than two tears later I'm finally feeling sort-of ready to make the move to Maggie's official.
But only if I can bring my stuff with me. Of course.
Much of it is still in the same boxes that filled my parents attic and basement. Some of it is still wrapped up in the craft paper that my mother used when she helped me move out of my first apartment more than a decade ago.
Here's a good rule of thumb: if you have something boxed or wrapped-up for ten years, you probably don't need it any more. I'm saying this for my own benefit, even though I know full well that I won't listen.
Last week, two and 1/2 years after the last time she did it, my Aunt Margaret was back in Florida, once again packing my Mom's stuff. This time much of it went to Goodwill. I know because I'm the one who brought it there.
Of course, those things could have been donated to Goodwill back in New York, which would have saved everybody a lot of trouble. But my mother couldn't do that, so we were left to, after she had left us.
And the moving continued when I got back to New York. Maggie's apartment now houses all of my stuff -- the stuff that moved from Woodmere, Long Island to Horatio Street in the West Village to her once-spacious, now-cluttered apartment.
And now there is so much stuff in there that we (or at least I) will certainly be disinclined to move any time in the near future. That is crazy. It's crazy to let things rule your life. It's crazy to let your possessions make important life decisions for you.
And it's crazy to pay thousands of dollars to have movers drive an old green bookshelf all the way from New York to Florida - only to donate it to charity two years later.
So take my advice, and get rid of everything. Now. God knows I'd like to.
And God knows I probably never will.
ORGANIZED CLUTTER: THE NEXT GENERATION
I just drove a truck on the streets of Manhattan. And nobody got killed. Okay, it wasn't really a truck. It was more of a van. But it was a long van. It was -- by far -- the largest vehicle I have ever driven on New York City streets (or any streets for that matter). I am a very nervous driver. Check that. I'm a very nervous person -- and driving only makes it worse. And driving on city streets makes it doubly worse. And driving a truck (or van) on city streets makes it triply worse.Maggie and I rented the van last night from U-Haul, so that I could move some things from my apartment to her apartment. Maggie drove from the U-Haul rental office to my building and stayed with the van as I carried things down the stairs.
Yes, my building is a walk-up. That was fun.As I carried a small (but heavy) bookcase down the stairs, I met my neighbor Joe. Joe is a weightlifter. Joe could carry me down the stairs if he wanted to -- with a TV strapped to my back -- and Maggie strapped to the TV.I've known Joe for more than a decade. He used to work with Maggie and me at the production company where we first met in 1998. So when I saw him, I thought to myself, "Hooray! Joe will offer to help me carry a few things."Here's how the conversation actually went, as Joe was walking up the stairs and I was walking down: JOE (eyeing the bookcase): Hey. You throwing that out?WILL: No. I'm just bringing a few things over to Maggie's.JOE: You got a van?WILL: Yeah.JOE: Cool. Okay, seeya later.Then he passed by me and entered his apartment, which just happens to be across the hallway from mine. Then he closed the door, and I heard the bolt lock go ker-thunk. My position is this: if you have big muscles, you ought to use them for the good of humanity. And what is gooder than helping your fellow man/neighbor/former co-worker carry heavy stuff down the stairs?
With great power comes great responsibility. But what have I ever done to help him? Not much. That reminds me of my favorite piece of verse.
A man said to the universe:
"Sir, I exist!"
"However," replied the Universe,
"The fact has not created in me a sense of obligation."
I often quote that, but nobody seems to understand why. Here's why I like it: it reminds me that I am not owed anything by anybody. If I had done anything to pursue a friendship with Joe over the last ten years, then I could ask him to help me. But I didn't. So I'm shit out of luck.
I take full responsibility for the current state of my life -- for better or worse.
Anyway, Maggie and I got the van loaded up with the last remnants of my bachelorhood and drove it (I mean, she drove it) downtown to her place.
There is going to be an adjustment period, of course, as we integrate my stuff with hers. For example, the walls of my apartment were covered with framed posters from horror movies. Someone (a female, of course) once pointed out that every single poster on my walls depicted a woman in jeopardy in one way or another (i.e. about to be attacked by the Creature from the Black Lagoon, or Dracula, or Killer Bob from Twin Peaks, or about to get a stake driven through her heart, etc).I looked around and realized she was right. And now all of that stuff is in Maggie's apartment.
Along with my: Richie Rich comic book collection (six huge boxes, more than 1,200 comics); baseball cards, New York Mets memorabilia collection, Marx Bros. collection, Gumby collection, Big Boy collection, Dark Shadows collection, VHS tapes, DVDs, books and all manner of stuff.
All of it meticulously organized. Just like my mother taught me.
THE PRICE IS WRONG
As you may have noticed, I've been writing a lot recently about my mother, our family and our life together.
And now you have a rare opportunity to own an actual piece of McKinley family history! All you have to do is visit the Goodwill retail store at 1892 Southeast Federal Highway in Stuart, Florida!
There you will find all manner of mementos from our longtime family home on Long Island (which my parents sold in July of 2005) and my parents' retirement home in Port St. Lucie (which is currently for sale -- email me for an insider price!)
I can give you a complete accounting of our inventory at Goodwill in Stuart, because I was the one who carted all the stuff over there in my Dad's minivan last week.
Each morning I packed up the van, drove thirty minutes to the Goodwill store and unloaded box after box after box.
And not only did I donate my parents' stuff, I also brought over a kitchen table and chairs from my late grandmother's apartment!
I even put the table together in the back of the Goodwill warehouse. My apologies to the Goodwill staff member for not providing the correct bolts to properly screw the tabletop to the base!
I'll do better next time, Janet. I promise.
On Friday, as I was off-loading the van for the third consecutive day, I noticed something that I wished I had seen a few days earlier.
Apparently Goodwill has their own fleet of trucks to pick up your stuff. Thanks for telling me guys!
I got so good at moving stuff to Goodwill, I briefly thought about asking for a job application. I think I would be a good fit there. After all, according to their website, the folks who work at the Goodwill store are "economically disadvantaged."
Have you looked at my credit report recently? "Economically disadvantaged" is an understatement!
But alas, working at the Goodwill in Stuart, Florida would require that I live in (or somewhere near) Stuart, Florida. And that's kind of a deal breaker for me. I could fly Jet Blue down there every day, but I'm not sure that wouldn't help my finances much.
Speaking of finances, after my third trip to Goodwill in three days, I wondered if any of our stuff had made it to the retail floor.
So I decided to head into the store and check.
It smelled kind of musty inside, as if everything on the shelves had come from an attic or basement -- which it probably did.
I think the next time I go to Goodwill I'm going to donate a bottle of Febreze. Or Lysol. Or a case of those "Plug it in, plug it in" things. As I walked the aisles searching for items that had been in my parents' house earlier that week, I spotted a familiar old bookshelf. My Mom had taken it from my grandmother's apartment when she passed away more than a decade ago.
I was happy to see it -- glad to know that our family's stuff was now being recycled back into the marketplace, and being sold to help those less fortunate.
Then I looked at the price.
"Are you kidding me?" I said out loud. "Who's gonna spend $24.99 on that old thing?"
I remember a conversation back in New York about throwing that bookcase in the garbage. But now, after a moving van had carried it a thousand miles south, it was suddenly a valuable antique.
But what do I know? All my bookcases come from Ikea and cost $9.99 out of the box. I'm no furniture expert.
My search continued, and I happened on a cheap little TV cart that we had had for years.
I may be no furniture expert, but I do know that this thing was a complete piece of crap. It was even missing a shelf that I had mistakenly thrown away the day before I donated it. And they were asking $14.99!
I was rapidly becoming frustrated, so I moved to the Cookware aisle, where I spotted some old McKinley favorites.This funky, square, orange plastic serving bowl was a stylish staple in the McKinley house back in the '70s. And Goodwill didn't even have a price on it! So I asked a sales clerk.
"Everything on that shelf is $2.99," she said, with a wave of her hand.
"Everything?" I asked. "There's some valuable stuff there.""Everything," she replied. "If you like it, buy it."
Part of me wanted to buy it, because it was so reasonably priced. But that would really defeat the purpose of donating something. Although I could have bought it and re-sold it on eBay. It's not every day that you find vintage Nixon-era cookware for only $2.99.
I guess there's a reason why these Goodwill people are "economically disadvantaged." They have no idea how to price the items that people donate!
I briefly considered un-donating all of our stuff, just as a matter of principle. But that would have been awkward, and hard to prove. It's not like I could have walked around the store with a shopping cart, grabbing stuff of the shelves, yelling "This is mine! This is mine!"
So, after some soul searching, I decided to let it be. After all, it took three trips to get the stuff there, and I really had no energy left to do it all in reverse.
But the next time I go down to Florida, I'm going back to the Goodwill retail store in Stuart. And if that stuff is still on the shelf, I'm going to offer some unsolicited pricing advice.
Whether they like it or not!
I flew back to New York from West Palm Beach on Friday night.There's something supernatural about the days and nights I've spent in my parents' house since my mother's death. Time seems to move more slowly there. Days bleed into one another. Time seems to stand still and yet, when its time to leave again, I rush to finish what I hoped to accomplish and wonder where the time went.My aunt and I spent most of last week going through boxes, albums, books, closets and all manner of artifacts, mementos, scrapbooks, pictures and keepsakes.My mother was a teacher, as I have discussed previously. But in retrospect, I believe she may have missed her calling. She really should have been an archivist. Her organizational abilities were museum-grade. It was as if she was preparing all of her materials for something. Maybe a presidential library?The McKinley Presidential Library? A good idea, but I think it's been done.My mother had a tendency to go through phases in her life. She didn't typically have casual interests. If she liked something, so immersed herself in it as thoroughly as possible. I understand this because I do it myself. I always have and I always will. All throughout the house were the legacies of her obsessions (in no particular order): quilting, religion, family, opera, travel, India, the computer, yoga, mahjong. And each of those interests took her down a different path, where she gained greater insight into herself and developed new relationships with people that further expanded her circle of friends and further enriched her life. She was a profoundly inquisitive person. She may have even had a touch of artist's ADD. I found countless books with bookmark firmly implanted somewhere early in chapter 2. Her curiosity functioned at a constant fever pitch, with both fueled her and held her back. My mother dragged all of those half-read books and magazines, half-listened to audio cassettes, half-watched VHS tapes, half-finished projects, un-cooked recipes and partially-realized ideas behind her -- from youth to old age, from New York to Florida. I think as age, illness and medication slowed her, that ever lengthening To-Do list weighed her down. Or maybe it kept her going. Or maybe both. Who knows?I find myself feeling closer to her now that she's dead. That sounds odd, even to me. My mother and I were very close in my early childhood and then, when I was a teenager, the battles began.I can't speak for her, but I know that I never fully got over the battles. I was always on guard around her, flexed and ready for sparring, if it happened. It usually didn't. But sometimes it did, even recently. Even when it didn't, there was a toughness in my interaction with her; a kind of wisecracking sarcasm that people often mistook for dislike, meanness or contempt.I didn't dislike her. But I also didn't fully forgive her for the mistakes that she made. She was a brilliant person but, I believe, a frustrated one. That frustration fueled her to achieve, to impact the lives of others, to touch many people in many different ways. But it also manifested itself negatively. At times, she betrayed my trust in her. And I can't say that she ever fully regained it.That tension between us was always there, simmering below the surface, ready to boil over. Simultaneously though, there was a deep, silent bond that always endured. I liken it to the sense of brotherhood that is developed between fellow soldiers in wartime. Even if you never see those guys again -- or never want to -- you don't forget it, and what they meant to you. When speaking of her (to my sister or father), I would always refer to her as "Mommy." Some people (like Maggie, for instance) have found it odd that a nearly forty-year-old man would call his mother "Mommy."
But I didn't actually call her Mommy to her face. When speaking with her directly, I would address her as "Mother," like I was a little British child in short pants and a bow tie."I say! Mother? May I have another crumpet? Yes? Oh, jolly good! Pip pip!"That Mommy/Mother dichotomy was never resolved and will, I imagine, follow me for the foreseeable future. Perhaps, some enterprising shrink will read this and contact me to schedule an appointment. After all, I am currently "between therapists" -- ever since I decided to abandon my last analyst when I couldn't pay off the $1,200 I owed her.But now that she is gone (my mother, not my shrink), all of that personality conflict is gone as well. We were so much alike, in so many ways. Odd, perhaps, since I am adopted (or as I like to say "previously owned").If ever there was a poster child for Nurture vs. Nature, I am it.So now, as I review her life, and her memories and talk to the people who she knew and who cared about her, I am able to see more clearly the person that she was. I know the person that I knew, but that was only part of her -- the behind-the-scenes, not for public viewing part. Sometimes I wish I had gotten more of that public persona. But then again, I have always preferred experiencing the real, unadulterated truth - for better, or for worse.This week I spoke with a nice lady named Gunelle, one of my mother's quilting students. I told her about the different "versions" of my mother and how I was processing what was real. "We all have masks," she said. "And we show different ones to different people."Now there are no more masks. I'm finally able to weigh the positives against the negatives and to come to a final verdict. Thankfully, there's plenty of evidence to review -- and all of it is meticulously organized.It's almost as if somebody was planning for this process.
YOU CAN'T TAKE IT WITH YOU
Here's my advice to you: don't accumulate a lot of stuff.Because some day, many years from now, it's all going to end up on a loading dock at Good Will.And someone is going to have to bring it there. Most likely, that someone will be your kid.You love your kid(s), right? So why not save him (or her, or it) a lot of trouble and GET RID OF YOUR CRAP. TODAY. PLEASE.
Sell it on eBay, donate it to the thrift shop, throw it away. I really don't care. Just do it -- before it becomes somebody else's problem. Your child's back -- and psyche -- will thank you for it!
SHE WAS A TEACHER
The day after my mother died, the funeral director asked my father, my sister and I what her occupation had been. This simple question generated some unexpected debate."Housewife," my father answered definitively, and then, in an extremely rare concession to political correctness, he corrected himself. "Homemaker.""She was a quilter," my sister added."Well, she really was a teacher," I said. "That was the most significant thing she did."We all agreed. And now, on her death certificate, Josephine McKinley is immortalized as teacher.As we sat there, I wondered how she would have answered the question, if she were here. Of course, if she were here, we wouldn't be sitting in a funeral director's office.
But you get my point.
Anyway, today I discovered what her answer would have been.While my aunt and I were feverishly packing up, throwing away and otherwise marveling at just how much stuff my mother had accumulated, I found a book called Grandparents Remember. It's what used to be called a baby book, where grandparents write down things that their grandchildren might like to know later in life.Under Grandmother's Job she wrote the following:"Bubbe taught patchwork and quilting in her studio. Also restored quilts."So, in a sense, we were all right. I said teacher. My sister said quilter. And my father said -- on the second try -- homemaker. In fact, her "studio" was in the home that she had made. Actually, it was directly behind the home -- in our garage.When I tell people that my Mom used to hold quilting classes in a garage, they often get confused. Understandably so. The words quilting and garage are not often used in the same sentence.My Dad may have built it as a garage, but it was quickly annexed by Mom in a bloodless coup. What was designed as a simple carport soon got a bathroom, a heater, a carpet and a collection of quilters of all ages, races and creeds.
Just about every day my sister and I would come home from school and my mother would be holding court with what I once often described as "her fan club."These women worshipped her. She was their David Koresh and they were her Branch Dividians -- only without the fire and gunplay.
It was a bit like a quilting cult, but in a good way. It seemed like every time I walked into the garage -- I never called it her studio -- my mother was answering a question, telling someone what to do or showing them how to do it. And her student would be sitting at the giant ping-pong table that my mom had repurposed as her quilting table, looking up at my Mom, wide-eyed, with a contented smile.
And that went on for more than twenty five years.
Today I talked on the phone with one of her former students. "I think about her every day, because I quilt every day," this lady told me. "Even though she's not here any more, she's always with me."And that's what it means to be a teacher.
FROM THE SCRAPBOOK
QUILTING, PATCHWORK DISPLAYED AT LIBRARYfrom The South Shore Record (June 14-21, 1973)
Carrying a quilted patchwork pocketbook to a lecture at the Hewlett-Woodmere Public Library changed the whole course of Mrs. William McKinley's life.
Women at the lecture asked the Five Towns resident if she would teach them how to make similar items for themselves. And now, Josephine McKinley conducts adult education classes, gives private instruction and spends most of her waking hours with a needle in her hands and patches on her lap
.Her patchwork and quilted items are on display at the Library, 1125 Broadway, Hewlett for the month of June. A number of popular patchwork designs are displayed including the Triple Irish Chain, Toad-in-the-Hole, Grandmother's Flower Garden, and the Lemoyne Star. To demonstrate the difference between machine- and hand-stitching. Mrs. McKinley shows the star as executed on the sewing machine.
Included in the display are pocketbooks (including the pocketbook), patchwork animals and toys, pillows, quilts and table mats. Two of Mrs. McKinley's students, Mrs. Louise Miller and Mrs. DeeDee Passaggio have lent examples of their work for the display.
COMPASSION CAN COME FROM THE STRANGEST PLACES
I did very little over the weekend, other than sleep and watch MSNBC's coverage of the Nevada caucus and the South Carolina Republican primary.I needed to rest up, to recover from my long week in Boston and prepare for another week in Florida.I'm back here again, at my sister's place near Ft. Lauderdale. I arrived early on Monday morning. On Tuesday my aunt and uncle are flying in and we begin Round 2 of packing up my parents' things at the house.Today we brought my Dad to a new doctor near my sister's place. We accompanied him into the examining room and spoke with the pretty young nurse. My Dad mentioned my Mom's passing to the nurse, and she offered her condolences."I guess we have another angel," she said.If I am silently grading people on their expressions of condolence (which I acknowledge that I am), this young woman gets an A+. Her comment was genuine and heartfelt, and I know it made all three of us feel better. It was, in a word, perfect. The simplicity of what she said reminded me that we often make things more complicated then they need to be. And her compassion was exactly what you would hope for on the part of a healthcare provider specializing in geriatric medicine. After that we came home and I called Bank of America to pay the monthly bill on one of my Dad's credit cards. It turned out that the card I was calling about actually was registered in my Mom's name.I explained the situation to the customer service rep and he helped me through the process of switching the card over to my father's name. Then, when our call was about to end, he said something that truly touched me."My thoughts and prayers are with you," the anonymous Bank of America phone rep said to me.It was one of the nicest, most empathetic and genuine things anyone has said to me since this all started nearly a month ago.Some people might balk at words like angel and prayer, especially a cynical New Yorker who hasn't gone to church on his own volition in quite some time.But, for me, it wasn't about religion, or dogma or moralizing. It was about compassion.
At a time of loss and sadness, there's something deeply comforting about the spirituality of strangers.
I finished work on my pharmaceutical sales meeting in Boston on Friday at about 1 PM, but I wasn’t scheduled to leave for the train station until 3.So I took a stroll into the Prudential Center, the vast shopping mall that connects the Sheraton Hotel, the Convention Center and numerous restaurants into the climate controlled, multi-tentacled ecosystem that had been my home for seven days.Over the course of that busy week I had ventured out into the cold air of the Boston winter only a handful of times. On Thursday night I had made an appearance at the traditional wrap party that usually marks the end of one of these weeklong shows.The party was at a bar/bowling alley/pool hall across the street from the hotel. I didn’t stay long. I found myself uninspired by the awkward spectacle of my forty-something co-workers bopping away to ‘80s hits like Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go.I just wasn’t in the mood for forced revelry. Actually I’m never in the mood. But this time I felt it more strongly than usual. On Friday, I decided that I should make good use of my four-hour train ride by reading an inspirational book. I visited the Barnes and Noble store in the mall and picked up a copy of "The Year of Magical Thinking," a moving bestseller by Joan Didion about the death of her husband. Then I made my way back to the hotel lobby to arrange my spot on the shuttle bus to the Back Bay train station. I sat in a chair near the door and pulled out my book. “Are you a Joan Didion fan? asked the young clipboard-toting woman who was arranging my bus ride to the Back Bay Station.“Actually this is the first book of hers I’ve gotten,” I answered. “My mother just died and I feel like I need to read something inspirational.”The words surprised me as they came out. Why was I telling this strange woman with the clipboard that my mother had died? I could have mentioned that I was a first time Joan Didion reader and left it at that. But I didn’t.“Well that book is certainly inspirational,” the travel coordinator replied, after taking a moment to regain her composure. And that was the end of that conversation.There is one thing I have learned over the last few weeks. Actually, there are many things, but here’s one of the biggies: people do not like to talk about death. When they do, the conversation always has to include a happy ending, or an uplifting thought, or a moral to the story. It’s almost as if people don’t want to acknowledge the shittiness of death, the finality of it, or the fact that it will happen to all of us, and everyone we love.Clipboard girl didn’t say “I’m sorry” or “my condolences” or anything of that nature when I dropped that little tidbit into conversation. Same thing with the pharmacist at CVS in Port St. Lucie when I stopped by to transfer a prescription medication that had run out. And the customer service representative at my credit card company when I called to explain why my payment was late.I’m not saying I expected any of these people to give me a hug. It’s just interesting to watch the poker-faced responses that seemed to be the norm. Sometime I feel like people are mad at me for even bringing it up – like, “how dare you disturb the delicate balance of my psyche by introducing death into the conversation.”Strangely enough, it is often the people who are going to die who are far more comfortable talking about it than the people who are going to stay behind.
In "The Year of Magical Thinking," Joan Didion quotes Philippe Aries from “The Hour of Our Death.”
"Death, even if sudden or accidental, gives advance warning of its arrival," Aries writes. "Only the dying man can tell you how much time he has left.”My mother talked about death in the months before she died. My parents had a cleaning lady who morphed into my mother’s unofficial aide – and confidant – during her final six months.“Your Mom wasn’t afraid to die,” she told me, after the fact. “I think she was planning for it.”I had visited my parents last summer, and my mother said something to my five-year old niece when my niece mentioned that she liked a particular family memento. “Well, you can have that when Bubbe goes to Heaven,” she said to the five-year old.“You’re not going anywhere,” I shot back, with a hint of anger in my voice. "You're gonna be here for a long time."
I remember that anger when people react badly to my mention of her death. Not too long ago, the topic made me just as uncomfortable as it makes them. About a week after my mother’s death, I called her former business partner on the phone. Leona and my Mom ran a quilting and crafts instruction business for many years out of our garage. Leona had lost her husband Murray about two and a half years ago in a tragic accident, and my sister and I had paid her a Shiva call afterwards.“I know she was sick, but I feel like it wasn’t her time to go,” I said to Leona on the phone. “She could have stayed around a lot longer.”“Maybe that would be easier for you,” she replied. “But would it have been easier for her?”Didion spends much of her book wondering if her husband knew. And I wonder the same thing. Did my mother know? Or was it just wishful thinking? Was she ready to go, to stop battling Parkinson’s Disease and the new limitations and humiliations that each day brought?I can’t ask her now. And, if I had asked her back in August when she mentioned her impending death to me for the first and only time, how would she have responded?Would she have said, “I think it’s gonna be soon” knowing how I would have reacted? Probably not. Because she knew that we would have done everything to prevent it. And, as Leona reminded me, that may not have been what she wanted.I have no way of knowing, other than to attempt to piece together the clues, retroactively.One of those clues is the last email she sent ever sent me, on February 5, 2007 at 6:35 PM. We didn’t email much, my mother and I. Usually it would be her forwarding me a joke, or a prayer. But this one was different. I remember the day I got it. It was a link to a website called Parents Wish.Didion writes, “Survivors look back and see omens, messages they missed.”I remember when I clicked through that link, almost a year ago. What I saw at the time made me mad. It made me feel as if my mother was giving up. What I realize now is, she was sharing something with me, preparing me for what was to come. I just wish that what was to come didn’t have to come so soon.
AT THE PRUDENTIAL CENTER IN BOSTON
In the food court.
By the way, I don't endorse Starbucks. I just go there because they will give you lidded cups filled with ice for free. I've been using the one in this picture for three days now. I'm heading home this afternoon.
SAFARI SO GOODIE
My nieces Emily (age 9) and Laura (age 6) spent more than a week at my parents' house in Port St. Lucie after my mother passed away. It was a tough week for them so, the day before my mother's funeral, Maggie and I took Emily and Laura to Lion Country Safari in West Palm Beach, Florida. We drove through America's first cageless zoo, and saw lions, elephants, zebras, chimpanzees and rhinos. We were this close to all these exotic animals, but we couldn't touch them. But there was one animal that we could touch -- the giraffe. There was a feeding station set up on a high platform. And we got to feed - and touch -- the giraffe. Or more to the point, he got to touch us -- with his gigantic tongue. It's been a long time since I've been that close to another mammal's tongue. I hope Maggie didn't get jealous. If you ever get lonely, why not visit Lion Country Safari in West Palm Beach.Just tell them Will sent you.
ANGER IS THE SECOND STAGE OF GRIEF
An ex-girlfriend of mine texted me today, asking me how I was doing.
"I hope you feel peace," she wrote.I was struck by the choice of that word. Peace. I have accepted it, yes. I have gotten on with my life. I have gotten past the point where a picture, or comment or personal possession makes me weep like a little girl (although I did channel surf past Titantic the other night and completely lost it at the end when Old Rose dies and Celene Dion sings that stupid song.)But peace. No. I don't feel peace. I feel anger, frustration, regret.
My mother was ill. She had Parkinson's Disease - or so she was told. But she was on so much fucking medication that even if she didn't have it, she would have looked and acted like she did. That stuff was strong enough to slow down Godzilla.
And she was getting worse, but not consistently. She was in the hospital a few months ago and came out sounding better than I had heard her sound in a long time.
I can't shake the feeling that all of this happened before it was supposed to happen. I heard a women at work today talking to her own mother on the phone. My co-worker is in her 50s. She has a daughter in college. And her mother is still alive and kicking.I'm in my 30s and my mother is dead. That makes me mad - even though I have other friends who lost parents when they were much younger than I am. I can't shake the feeling that the health care system of south Florida failed my mother. I feel like there's no sense of urgency down there. The whole area is filled with dying old people, so the questions, concerns, aches, pains, and quality of life issues are sloughed off.
What's the big deal if some sick old lady dies at 72 or 73 or 74? It's gonna happen any way, right? I hold myself responsible as well, but I did try to help. I went down there and met with my mother's primary doctor over the summer. I found him to be dismissive to her concerns, and advised her to look for another doctor. She never did, and now she never will.I'm not accusing anyone of anything. Yet. What makes me the maddest is, I always planned to sit down with my mother one day and interview her about her life - her childhood, the death of her father when she was 17, meeting my father, what it was like to be a young wife in the '50s, her years as a Girl Scout leader in the '60s, and the whole process of how they came to adopt me. Now I can't do that. All those stories, memories, insights, feelings, regrets -- all of it -- is lost forever. I blew that opportunity. And now, like the reporter in Citizen Kane, I am left to piece together the truth -- to figure out what Rosebud really was. It's not just because I'm a writer and I want to write about all of this. Or maybe it is. The power I have as a writer is the power of immortality. If I do a good enough job of telling my story - and her's, and my Dad's and my sister's -- all of us will live on after we are gone. That's the power of a great book, or movie, TV show, poem, song, whatever.Orson Welles is long dead. But Citizen Kane will live forever. That is his legacy.So, perhaps to compensate, perhaps in an attempt to assuage my feelings of guilt and missed opportunity, I've starting asking my father questions. Not about my mother. It's too soon for that. I've been asking him questions about his life.
I found out tonight that he had two older siblings who died as infants. That's such a significant fact about his life, yet I never knew it. I never even thought to ask, until now.
I don't know about peace -- when, or if that will come. All I know is, I'm not going to make the same mistake twice.
SOMETIMES YOU (DON'T) WANNA GO WHERE EVERYBODY KNOWS YOUR NAME
I'm in Boston right now, working on a pharmaceutical meeting. I came up here on Saturday, but somehow I've gotten behind on the blog and I'm now consistently writing about things that happened two days previously. It's like I'm on a tape delay, like they do on the radio so they can bleep out curse words.Who knows, there may be someone from Blogger Standards and Practices standing by, ready to censor me if I say something offensive.So yes, I'm in Boston.
I would rather be home, watching TCM and taking gigantic bong hits. But nobody seems to want to pay me to stay home and take gigantic bong hits. They do, however, seem willing to pay me to work on pharmaceutical sales meetings. So I pack up my dress clothes -- including my lovely new Perry Ellis Funeral Collection shirt -- and I get on trains, planes or whatever.Honestly, I can't really complain about this one. After nearly two weeks in Florida I was ready to take a job at 7-11, as long as it would have gotten me out of south Florida. I'll be here until Friday, then home for two days, then back to -- you guessed it -- south Florida.I have to go back to help my aunt finish packing up my mother's stuff. I'm hoping that this trip will be my final visit to the house where my mother spent the last two and a half years of her life.
I never wanted them to move there. I never wanted them to sell their house on Long Island, or to buy one in Florida -- anywhere in Florida. Their leaving New York felt to me like a concession to death, an acknowledgment that it was impending.
I will never leave New York for Florida, regardless of how old I am. It's a lot harder for the grim reaper to find me in a city of 8 million people than in a little retirement village in Port St. Lucie.
They're gonna have to drag me out of here kicking and screaming. And by here, I mean New York, not Boston where I came two days ago to work on a pharmaceutical sales meeting.
Okay, now I'm repeating myself.
What the (censored) is wrong with me?
THE STORY MUST GO ON
Proving that life does indeed go on, I have a story in this week's edition of Downtown Express. It's a Q&A with author Foster Hirsch about the Otto Preminger film festival at Film Forum, the Greenwich Village movie house.I will always remember this story, because the interview was conducted the day after my mother's funeral. My father's house was filled with family members, so I used a conference room at the local Best Western for my phone interview. The manager was nice enough to provide the room free of charge, since Maggie and I had spent the two previous nights as guests at the hotel. If you're ever in Port St. Lucie, Floria, why not stop by the Best Western on US 1? They're nice folks. On Saturday night I transcribed my recording of the interview, but I found it impossible to concentrate on editing it, or on writing the introduction. There was so much going on in that house - physically, emotionally, spiritually. There were boxes everywhere and people everywhere and distractions everywhere. So on Sunday night, after Maggie had headed back to New York, I told my father that I was going back to the hotel -- in part to write my story, in part to avoid another night of sleeping in my mother's bed. My father flipped out. He didn't want me to leave. He claimed it was because he was afraid that my sister would be stuck there in the house with a fifteen month-old and no car.
"What if the baby has to go to the hospital?" he yelled. He even told me not to write my story. At a certain point I realized what was happening. Now that my family members had gone, he just wanted both my sister and I to be there with him.So we agreed to a compromise. I went back to the hotel for five hours, finished my story and came back to the house. When I got home, long after midnight, my father was still awake - waiting up for me. Only when I was safely in the house with the door locked behind me did he go to sleep.This past Friday night, after I had been back in New York for two days, I went to Film Forum. My interview had been blown up and was prominently displayed for all to read. After the screening of Preminger's 1954 Western River of No Return (starring Robert Mitchum and Marilyn Monroe) I saw an elderly man reading my interview. He stood there for a very long time and appeared to have read the whole story. He even laughed - three times (not that I was counting or anything). After my mother passed away I had thought about canceling the story. My editor certainly would have understood. But at that moment -- watching that old man enjoy my work -- I felt like I had made the right decision.
And I think my mother would have agreed with me. To read my interview with Foster Hirsch in Downtown Express, click here.
CONDOLENCE DOs AND DON'Ts
In the two weeks since my mother's death, I have been forced to experience things I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.
But the thing I dreaded most was going back to work.
I imagined the buzz buzz of water cooler conversation about my mysterious, post-Holiday absence."Did you hear what happened to Will McKinley? His mother died...OVER THE HOLIDAYS! Can you imagine anything so terrible? Christmas will be ruined for him..FOREVER!" Pity was the last thing I wanted to deal with: that Thank-God-I'm-not-you look on people's faces. I wanted to issue a public statement and email it to all my co-workers before I got back to work, just to explain what happened, and my feelings about it: FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASEDateline: Port St. Lucie, Florida Josie McKinley, beloved wife of Bill, devoted mother to Will and Missy and doting Bubbe to Emily, Laura and Kate (aka Boo-Boo) passed away on Friday, December 28. The McKinley family would like to point out that this sad event happened three full days after Christmas, and almost a month after Hanukah. None of us are really sure when Kwanzaa was (or even what it is) but the point is, all Holidays were fully completed and 100% over and done with by the time of death. And, in case you're wondering, New Year's Eve and/or Day is not a Holiday. It's purely an excuse to get drunk and take a day off to nurse your hangover. There is no religious component to it, save for the act of praying that you make it home before you puke. One more thing: our wife/mom/grandmother went to church with us on Christmas Eve, gave us all presents on Christmas Day and even enjoyed a cold Heineken after dinner on Christmas night. She was in good spirits and did plenty of smiling as her grandchildren opened their presents.
And we have the pictures to prove it.We all will miss her greatly. And, next year at this time, we will remember Christmas of 2007 with joy -- thankful that we were able to enjoy one last Christmas with our wife, Mom and grandmother, as a family.
We hope that this clarifies the situation. So ease up on the pity, okay?
On Thursday I quietly sneaked into my office in Union Square, just late enough to avoid the morning rush. I quickly made my way to my seat, and my cubicle-mate June greeted me with a big -- and welcome -- hug.
June had left a message on my voicemail the minute that she heard what had happened. And I had spoken on the phone with her a few days later.
This leads me to my next point.If at all possible, please avoid emailed condolence messages when the loved one of a friend or co-worker dies. Many readers of previously owned were kind enough to post their thoughts and best wishes here, which I greatly appreciated. But if you have the telephone number of someone who has lost a parent -- and you have called that number at least once in your life -- there is no better time to dial it than at a time of great loss.People will say, "I don't want to interrupt" or "I don't want to call at a bad time." Bullshit.
Whatever we grieving family members are doing - it's not fun. We are desperate to be interrupted. And, when you're dealing with the death of a parent, all times are a bad time. There is no such thing as a good time to call. So just dial the phone. If we can't talk, we won't answer. If we can, we'll be glad to hear from you. But if you do insist on sending an email (or, Heaven forbid, a text message), please avoid emoticons. Nobody loves a smiley face more than I do, but I would err on the side of caution and leave them off your condolence email. It might seem a bit glib, considering the circumstances. Also, for those emailing, please make sure that your mail program does not add a promotional message to the end of each email you send (both Yahoo and Hotmail do this). That will avoid inappropriate emails, such as: I'm so sorry you lost your Mom. Please let me know if there is anything I can do for you. Try Earthlink Hi-Speed Internet free for 30 days. Visit www.earthlink.com/freetrial for more details. Condolences containing commercials are definitely a faux pas.
But back to my experience upon my return to work. All in all, it was not nearly as bad as I had feared.
Everyone was very nice. I mean, the people who speak to me were nice. There are a number of people who sit near me who, for a multitude of reasons, don't speak to me unless they are forced to (i.e. alone on an elevator, on line at the deli, etc.). Those people didn't say anything at all to me, even though I'm sure that many of them knew what had happened. That's just fine with me. The last thing I want is fake, hollow condolences from fake, hollow people. I'd rather they keep it to themselves (which they did).Here's one thing that shouldn't surprise you: women are better condolencers than men. I'm not sure if that's a word, but you get my point. Many of my female co-workers gave me hugs, called me sweetie, baby, or honey and were compassionate and empathetic.
My male co-workers said things like, "I'm sorry for your loss" as if my car had been stolen from the parking lot at the mall. Actually, I think that might have gotten more of an emotional response.Like, "Oh fuck. Did you have The Club on the steering wheel? That sucks. I hate mall parking lots. Good luck, man. I'm pullin' for ya."What I did get from a few of my male co-workers was that grim-faced, stoic, "I'm a man. I am impervious to emotion." thing. But I'm not the first person to point out that men and women are different, am I Dr. Phil?
I should add that the gay men that I work with were also very kind and compassionate, and not just because they want to sleep with me (although I'm certain that is true.)
Here's another thing that happens when you suffer the death of a loved one: people will try to relate to your loss. Often this backfires in completely predictable ways:
Example: "I'm so sorry for your loss, Will. But I know how you're feeling. Last year, just after Christmas, I lost my Pod on the L Train. It was brand new. It really threw me for a loop. I'm only just now getting back to normal."
What did make me feel better was co-workers sharing stories of their own parents' passing, as well as strategies for dealing with grief -- or for helping the remaining parent make it on their own.
That was nice, although by the end of the day I had started to jot down "status reports" of co-workers' parents' living status -- just so I wouldn't forget, or end up engaging in inappropriate exchanges, such as:Me: "So Jack, where does your Mom live now?Jack: "Actually, she's the one that's dead. It's my Dad who's still alive."Me: "Oh, right. My bad."Of course, older people are better at offering condolences than younger ones. People in their forties and onward have experienced death first hand. Or, if they haven't directly, they have experienced it through a spouse or significant other. Most younger people lack that perspective, which is exactly how it should be. Younger people often try to put a positive face on the experience, like, "I'm so sorry to hear about your Mom. But at least you got some nice color when you were down there in Florida!"It occurs to me that you might think I graded each friend and co-worker on their expression of condolence to me. That is not the case! I noted it, for my own future reference. The older I get, the more occasion I will have to express sympathy to others. And I want to make sure that I don't make the same mistakes that some of my friends and co-workers made with me. And here's one thing that all condolence-givers need to be wary of: don't say, "If there's anything I can do, just let me know" unless you really, really mean it. If you're just saying it because you're a fundamentally uncreative person, and you have a tendency to spout stock cliches because you are not compassionate (or smart) enough to speak from the heart -- why not save everyone the trouble?If you ask some who is grieving, "Is there anything I can do?" you never know what response you might get. Because there are only a few times in life when you say that to people. Myself, I would never take advantage of those situations. But a lesser person might. Your grieving friend or colleague might say, "Well, come to think of it, could I borrow your car? I'd really like to drive up to visit my family's old Summer home in Upstate New York. I'd sure like to see it again, now that my Mom is gone."Then you will be forced to reply with something lame like, "Wow. Hmmm. Listen, I would love to help out with that, but I need to pick up my dry cleaning tomorrow morning. But if there's anything else you need, like anything that doesn't involve any inconvenience or personal sacrifice for me, you just let me know!"Remember, being turned down for a favor is awkward at any time, but extra awkward when you're grieving. My personal strategy for this is to say "Thank you." when someone offers, and leave it at that. That way I'm not disappointed. Another thing to avoid -- if possible -- is the combination condolence/work phone call. If you start out a phone conversation by offering your condolences, don't just wrap that up and move on to business. DON'T: "I was so sorry to hear about your loss. Yeah. But speaking of loss, how are you doing on that budget actualization? I'm getting killed by Accounting - literally. Those guys have been haunting me to get this done."DO: Call and express your sincere condolences. Then hang up and call back ten minutes later. Whatever work stuff you have to talk about can wait ten minutes. I promise, once you've reminded the griever of what he or she is grieving about, he or she will never remember the rest of the call. So just call back. Or, better yet, get your fat ass out of your office or cubicle and come over and speak with the person directly.That's the biggest point I can make. Life offers us very few opportunities where we can truly comfort others. There is no question that it can be awkward or difficult. The person on the receiving end might talk too much, or not at all. They might act defensive, or distant, or pissy. They might even cry. In fact, you have no way of knowing how they will react. But you should still do everything you can to communicate with them in a direct and genuine way.
You don't have to be fancy or even eloquent. You just have to let the person know that they are in your thoughts and that you are there if they want to talk about it. That's all, really.
When you have lost someone close to you, it's important to feel surrounded by warm feelings, good energy and love.Even at work.
THE RETURN OF THE METROSEXUAL
On Wednesday morning I woke up in New York for the first time in 12 days.
Actually it was more like Wednesday afternoon. No, come to think of it, it was Wednesday evening. I kind of lost track of the time. I was so physically and emotionally exhausted that I couldn't make it out of the apartment until after dark. When I did finally get out, I did what any well-paid, New York City creative professional would do after enduring great sadness and stress: I got a haircut, a tan, a pedicure and a massage.One thing I learned from my mother: always take care of yourself! Another thing I learned: keep your toenails neatly trimmed. Check!Sure, I spent a lot of money, but it was worth it. Really, if you go through an experience that wrenches you into emotional knots, and results in spontaneous, uncontrollable crying jags -- I highly recommend chasing it with a Day of Beauty. There's something about an under-paid Guatemalan woman scraping callous off your feet that is guaranteed to make one feel better about life. And a Chinese lady walking on your back doesn't hurt either.
One thing I would like to request: if you run the Okuyama Accupressure and Qi Going Tui-Na shop on 7th Avenue South in The Village (and you happen to be reading my blog), please remove that tinkly version of Celene Dion's My Heart Will On from your massage playlist! On a good day I can't listen to that song without crying like a PMS'ing 14 year-old girl.
Next time, how about some Van Halen? Or maybe The Monkees? It's impossible to be sad when you listen to The Monkees.
By the time I got back home on Wednesday I felt much better. Honestly, I am relatively sure that I've gotten more pedicures and/or massages in the last six months than my mother got in the entire time I knew her. I'm way more of a girly girl than she was.There is something about being back in New York, back in the routine, that makes what happened in Florida seem distant and surreal. There are moments when I think of it like a sad movie I watched. On Lifetime. In bed. With a pile of damp, balled-up Kleenex by my side. I'm not saying that I actually watch Lifetime -- I'm not that much of a metrosexual -- but that's what I imagine the movies are like on Lifetime. Death, crying and then a nice pedicure.
But next time, I'd rather just skip the first two.
On Tuesday my sister and I brought my father from Port St. Lucie to her house near Ft. Lauderdale. Maggie and I had painted the new room for him on New Year's Eve, and my brother-in-law had brought down some furniture.My father has both a bed and a chair that move up and down hydraulicly, with the touch of a button. Actually he has two of those chairs now. We moved my Mom's into the living room at my sister's house, though we agreed not to refer to it as "Mommy's chair." We're calling it "the other chair."That's the big question - how much do you dwell on what happened and how much do you move on? Is it even possible to move on, after you've spent 52 years with someone? I feel uneasy when I'm away from Maggie for just a few days. What would I do if she was never coming back?I've heard my father say to people "we lost Josie," as if she had been misplaced like car keys or mistakenly left behind at the mall. One of their old friends from high school called and my Dad said (of my mother), "It was like we were one person."For all the flaws that I saw in their relationship, they were like one person. For better or for worse. They did everything together for 52 years. I am hard-pressed to think of one occasion where my Dad did something and left my Mom behind at home. How do you start over at 78? Is it even possible?"A lot of times the husband checks out a few month after the wife goes," I said to him, the night after my mother died. "That's not going to happen in this situation. You've got a daughter and three little granddaughters who need you.""And a son," he added.Just before I left my sister's house for the airport, my father asked me to turn on the TV for him. We had taken the set from my parents' bedroom, but left the remote behind. That meant that my Dad was going to have to chose one channel and stick to it."What channel do you want on?" I asked him."Fox News," he answered. Of course. Did I even have to ask?My sister drove me to the airport in Miami and I survived a near riot on the security line. There was a heated argument between two swarthy-complected gentleman with shaved heads. One of them was wearing what looked like a gown, and carrying a brief case. The lady on line behind me informed security of the situation and the guard removed the two men from the line. "Good luck with the water boarding" I said, under my breath. They don't have much a sense of humor at the airport anymore. Then I boarded the plane, carrying a bag of memorabilia that I had taken from my parents' house. I may have been the first 39 year-old guy ever to go through airport security with a sewing kit, a collection of Girl Scout badges and a high school autograph book. There was another incident on the plane, with a black guy who accused the flight attendants of racism for reasons that were unclear to me. After the guy complained just a bit too loudly and too long, one of the flight attendants suggested that he was about to be removed from the plane. "Say no more," he replied. Ironically, it was he who said no more. Fear strikes again. I got off the plane at Newark, hopped a cab and was back at Maggie's apartment by 1 AM. She had Chinese food waiting and a a few presents for me to open. But the best present was seeing her.As we sat there watching Letterman on TiVo, I thought about my father, alone in that hydraulic bed, my mother's ashes by his side. I don't know how be does it. But I hope he doesn't stop.
WE'LL MAKE THE BEST OF IT
Today we picked up my mother's ashes at the funeral home.My father, my sister and I walked in and they handed me a small, square white box with a white label that said "Josephine McKinley." The box was heavier than I expected.My Dad asked the funeral director if they had a nicer box, and the secretary disappeared with the white box. Less than two minutes later she returned with a nicer green box speckled with black. This box is called a "travel box." It allows us to take the ashes through security at the airport without unpleasant explanation.The funeral director handed me a white, legal-sized envelope with a folded sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 paper. It said "We hearby certify that these are the cremains of JOSEPHINE McKINLEY.I didn't know that cremains was a word. Now I do. After that we visited the audiologist to check on the status of my father's hearing aid. My Dad was very antsy, and kept suggesting that we leave. I think he was nervous about leaving my mother in the car. Old habits are hard to break.After that the real estate broker came by the house and my Dad signed what seemed like dozens of sheets of paper. The house is for sale now. If you'd like a sweet little place in a 55+ community in Port St. Lucie, just let me know. I'll get you an insider price. After that my sister and I visited the weekly meeting of the Quilting Club in the Rec Room here at the development. There were about two dozen ladies sitting around with fabric, thread and big smiles on their faces. It reminded me of the scene that I encountered every day after school back in the '70s. My Mom had re-done our garage and started a business teaching quilting and crafts classes. The nice old ladies at the Quilting Club were very happy to see us. Many of them had been at the funeral last Friday, and those that missed it came up to us and expressed their condolences. My sister and I then brought in six large boxes of my mother's unfinished projects. The ladies promised to finish those projects and email us pictures of their work.Who knew old ladies knew how to email pictures?All the while my two aunts were busy packing up my Mom's stuff and throwing things away. I put a monkey wrench in their plans, because I would pick through the big black garbage bags just to make sure they weren't trashing anything that was meaningful to me. That was hard, because it's all meaningful. Now it's 4:37 AM. I just found a letter that my Mom had written to her father when he was in the hospital. The postmark was June 15, 1952. He died soon after. My Mom was only 17.
Then I found another letter. It was a note that my Mom wrote to her Mom, postmarked June 16, 1952.
She wrote, "Just remember Mom, no matter what happens, we'll make the best of it."
She did. And now I'm trying to do the same thing.
It occurred to me that I never really asked my Mom about her Dad, and how she handled his death. I wish I had. But now I know, at least a little bit. It's funny how things like that work out.